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FITNESS Warm-up exercises – why and how to

Nurturing
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Warming to the task


Personal Fitness
Paul O'Brien


Knowledge – it’s only power if correctly applied. We have repeatedly been advised of the importance of proper warming up before exercise.
Why is it so important to warm up before exercise, and what constitutes a proper warm-up routine? Well, apart from obviously preparing you for more strenuous exercise to follow, a good warm-up routine also has many other benefits.

BENEFITS OF WARMING UP
As blood flow to the muscles increases, they become warmer and therefore more flexible and supple. This leads to more-effective exercise and far less chance of injury during exercise. It also helps switch on the body’s cooling system, the sweat glands. Increased blood flow and respiration also means more efficient delivery of nutrients and oxygen to your working muscles. There’s also an increase in blood-vessel dilation, helping prepare the heart and circulatory system.
An effective warm-up also helps to release fluid around the joints, leading to less wear and tear over time. Because the joints and muscles have been warmed up, the range of motion around joints is improved, aiding movement efficiency, performance and decreasing injury risk.
In addition, an effective warm-up forewarns the brain that further, more-strenuous exercise is on the way. The brain responds by overseeing the release of hormones that power energy delivery, blood flow and all the other functions related to exercise. The connection between your brain and the working muscles is also strengthened, further priming your body for performance.
Finally, warming-up is a good time to clear the mind of distractions, focus on what you want to achieve and mentally prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Employing some mental strategies, like a short visualisation or mantra, can help you get the most from your sessions.

TWO WARM-UP PHASES
Warm-ups will vary based on individual preferences and based on what you are warming up for. For example, a warm-up for a five-mile jog will be very different from that for a game of tennis. However, an effective warm-up should comprise two main elements, the gradual-build-up and specific-movement phases.
The aim of the gradual build-up is to increase heart-rate (blood flow, dilation etc) and respiration rate, helping to warm-up muscles and lubricate joints, as well as beginning to ‘tune-in’ the brain. You should begin at a slow pace with some form of cardiovascular exercise – walking, jogging, skipping, cycling. After about three minutes at a slow pace, increase pace by about 10 per cent every minute for the next two to three minutes. You’ll know you’re warmed-up when you start breaking into a light sweat and respiration rate is increased. If you are unable to maintain a conversation during this phase of the warm-up, slow down!
After the gradual build-up, add some specific-movement exercises to the warm-up. Preferably, these movements should mirror what you will be doing during your main phase of exercise. For example, a runner may perform bodyweight lunges and high knee drills to mimic the joint movements during a run; an athlete performing a weight-training session may perform a couple of sets of push-ups to prepare for a bench-lifting session. For other disciplines, performing the moves of the actual main phase at a slower pace offers a very effective warm-up. Dynamic stretches can also be added here.
A further one to two minutes of higher-intensity moves can be performed to prime the muscles before beginning your main exercise phase.
Finally, it’s important to note that warm-ups should be extended to 10-15 minutes or longer in cold weather, as you get older, if you are recovering from an injury or if your are at a lower fitness level.

Paul O’Brien is a fully-certified Personal Trainer (ACE) and holds a national qualification in Exercise and Fitness. He is also a certified Life & Executive Coach with the LBCAI (Ireland). Paul is the founder of ‘Bootcamp West’, an innovative and exciting programme of fitness classes. He also designs and trains programs for individual athletes and teams. To contact Paul call 086 1674515 or check www.bootcampwest.com for details of current classes.